Dear Internet: Please stop. On today’s episode of “This has to be a joke,” people are cooking chicken in NyQuil. The viral TikTok challenge, dubbed “sleepy chicken,” encourages viewers to cook their chicken in acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and doxylamine. (Having Tide Pod challenge flashbacks yet?) Those three ingredients are the key ingredients in NyQuil and many other cold medicines. It’s not entirely clear if challengers believe this chicken will help them sleep or are ill-informed on the taste. Whatever their reason for considering sleepy chicken, the truth is that it’s terribly dangerous.
In fact, the trend has gone viral and gotten so out of hand that even the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) has had to issue a statement on the sleepy chicken challenge. “Boiling a medication can make it much more concentrated and change its properties in other ways,” said the FDA. “Even if you don’t eat the chicken, inhaling the medication’s vapors while cooking could cause high levels of the drugs to enter your body. It could also hurt your lungs.”
You might think, “Who in their right minds would think this is a good idea?” The problem is that, just like with drugs, peer pressure is getting the best of our kids. According to the FDA, the previous “Benadryl challenge” (which encouraged people to take large amounts of Benadryl for an acid trip experience) landed many young people in emergency rooms and even took lives. “One social media trend relying on peer pressure is online video clips of people misusing nonprescription medications and encouraging viewers to do so too. These video challenges, which often target youths, can harm people — and even cause death,” the FDA shared.
To dive a little deeper into this disturbing (read: baffling) trend, Scary Mommy spoke with Shelby Knox, Campaigns Director at ParentsTogether, a nonprofit advocacy organization representing more than 3 million American parents.
Why is Nyquil chicken so dangerous?
Any time you’re playing with or simply taking medicine, there’s cause for concern. Not taking the proper dosage or staying on certain medicines for too long can be harmful.
Stresses Knox, “Thousands of children have been hurt or killed from ill-advised social media challenges. And they come fast, one after the other, from Benadryl to eating Tide Pods to choking challenges — the platforms are aware and in many cases promoting the spread of these dangerous challenges, and they need to pull them down.”
In this particular challenge, acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and doxylamine — the three key ingredients in many cold medicines — can lead to a whole array of issues. Overusing acetaminophen, a pain reliever, can cause liver damage. Dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant that decreases activity in the part of the brain that creates cough activity, can lead to extreme drowsiness and disorientation. Doxylamine, an antihistamine, can lead to tachycardia when consumed in large quantities. You’ve probably heard that term on Grey’s Anatomy. It means your heart is beating too fast and too irregularly.
Bottom line: All of these substances, when abused, can lead to serious harm or even death.
Why are kids so susceptible to these TikTok trends?
“Social media, by its very design, exacerbates the dangers of these types of trends. They take off fast and spread like wildfire. The TikTok algorithm is designed to show users more of what they’ve engaged with, no matter what that content is or how old the user is. So, if a child watches one dangerous challenge video, more of the same will keep popping up on their page with no intervention from the app,” Knox cautions. “While TikTok claims to eliminate hashtags that promote these challenges and delete the videos when they find them, they are still circulating under different names. The app is working against parents who are trying to keep their kids safe by repeatedly showing their kids videos that could lead to serious injury or even death.”
What can we do, as parents, to curb this kind of behavior?
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve probably heard it 1000 times: Communication is critical.
“Parents can and should talk to their kids about assessing dangers on social media and keep an open line of dialogue with their child about what they are seeing online. Talking about these challenges once isn’t enough; parents need to keep checking in with their kids and explaining the dangers of taking part in challenges like these,” suggests Knox.
But, she adds, “Social media companies have a responsibility to keep their most vulnerable users safe. For instance, TikTok’s recommendation algorithm makes it uniquely difficult for parents to see kids’ feeds. This could be improved with mirror accounts, which would allow parents to see exactly what their minor child is seeing on TikTok — to date, over 12,000 ParentsTogether members have signed a petition asking TikTok to institute mirror accounts. TikTok needs to help parents by instituting mirror accounts so they can see what their kids see and address any concerns in real time.”
Looking for a really great chicken recipe that won’t hurt you? We’ve got your back. And in the meantime, please use medication responsibly. Seriously, y’all.